The Twitter Debates Series

In a recent discussion about the historicity of Jesus, a gentleman going by the Twitter name “Nihilism and Dread” (‏@Jesse_MDM) posted this message to me.

This video is a typical example of the kind of arguments that are put to me on Twitter by atheists. Heavy on emotion, short on scholarly evidence or coherent logical arguments. But I decided to check it out anyway.

The first thing I wondered is, who is the guy that made this video, one Mr. Dusty Smith? His website bio says:

“The most controversial comedian on planet earth, banned in 47 countries, marked for death by Muslim extremists, and hated by billions of Christians all over the world… He must be doing something right. Atheist comedian, actor, author, and owner of Logic-Wear apparel, Dusty Smith has dedicated his life to mocking religion to death any way he can!”

NOTE: I apologize for the profanity in the following quotes, but felt I needed to preserve the integrity of the message as delivered by Mr. Smith.

If you don’t care to watch it, I’ll just tell you up front the essential premise of Mr. Smith’s video is, “There’s absolutely no f***ing historical evidence that Jesus existed. Period.”

Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer.

Titus Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100), a first-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian, and hagiographer.

Mr. Smith claims the very first piece of historical evidence that Christians give as proof Jesus actually lived is a text from Josephus. Smith claims that because Josephus was not alive when Jesus was crucified, “this is not historical evidence, period.” He then dismisses the writings of Josephus as a “total f***ing forgery”, adding “I swear it’s true, man.”

It turns out that there is, in fact, some question among scholars as to whether the writings of Josephus were interpolated by later writers in favor of Jesus. There is no actual proof that such insertions into the text were ever made, but there is certainly room for skeptics to claim a shadow of doubt. Then again, the writings may be entirely authentic; the “Testimonium” is found in every copy of Josephus in existence. Either way, they are not considered by scholars to be a complete forgery, but rather a possibly interpolated work.

Historian Edwin Yamauchi and Biblical Scholar John P. Meier have constructed a copy of Jospehus’ “Testimonium” with the possible insertions in brackets. The following paragraph is Yamauchi’s:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to call him a man.] For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Christ.] When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

Even with the insertions removed, this stands as a solid piece of historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Mr. Smith then jumps to Tacitus as the next fraudulent source of historical record for Jesus, after casually throwing out the statement, “There’s no evidence whatsoever from the first century.”

Now hold on a minute there, Mr. Smith. A number of world-class historians and Ph.D. scholars would beg to differ with you. When viewed strictly as historical documents, not as religious texts, the writings of the New Testament authors prove to be an entirely credible source of historical evidence from the first century.

A portion of the second discovered copy of the Isaiah scroll.

A portion of the second discovered copy of the Isaiah scroll.

Noted New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce gives strong evidence that the New Testament was completed by A.D. 100. Most writings of the New Testament works were completed twenty to forty years before this. Mark is believed to be the first gospel written around A.D. 60. Matthew and Luke follow and are written between A.D. 60-70; John is the final gospel, written between A.D. 90-100. And the majority of New Testament scholars believe that Paul’s epistles are written from A.D. 48-60, and include creeds that even noted Jesus Seminar skeptic Marcus Borg claims date back to within 5 years of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Then there are the Dead Sea scrolls, which were discovered between 1946-1956 in caves about 13 miles east of Jerusalem. Papyrologist and Biblical scholar Jose Callahan discovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark and dated it to have been written in A.D. 50. He also discovered fragments of Acts and other epistles and dated them to have been written slightly after A.D. 50.

As emotionally persuasive as Mr. Smith’s arguments may be, on the issue of historical documents I’m going to have to side with the professionals rather than the comedian.

Mr. Smith then brings up a claim that I have made myself; that the early believers were almost all martyred for their faith, and no one would willingly die a horrible, painful death for something they knew was a lie. This is a line of reasoning Mr. Smith claims is “really f***ng stupid” because we know “people give their lives up for stupid bulls**t all the time.” Then he gives two examples; Muslims who blow themselves up because “Allah has reached down from heaven and given them divine inspiration to do so”, and the Heaven’s Gate cult who killed themselves “because they thought there was a spaceship waiting on the other side of Hale Bopp comet.”

Respectfully, Mr. Smith, you’re missing the entire point of the argument. It claims no one would willingly die for something they knew was a lie. The radical Muslim terrorist and the Heaven’s Gate cultist both gave their lives for what they believed was the truth. A man who doesn’t believe Allah exists wouldn’t strap on a suicide vest in the name of Allah. And an apostle who knew Jesus was a hoax wouldn’t maintain the lie to the point of being crucified upside down.

I’ll give Mr. Smith an A for passion, but on the issues of evidence and persuasive logical argument, I’m afraid he’s flunked out. The truth is, there’s so much evidence for Jesus having existed in history even militant atheist Richard Dawkins admits it’s true.